The Ugliness of the Fashion Industry

September 17, 2010

As a consumer of fashion magazines and a lover of most things fashion, my mood was seriously dampened after some recent exposure to the masked side of fashion.

As a petite person I can't say I've had serious modeling dreams as a teenager since I literally stopped growing at age 12. But I do love fashion models, in their photoshopped glory, plastered all over Vogue and Vanity Fair. I guess what I chose to overlook, and what the fashion industry has tried to hide, was that many of these glamorous women doing glamorous things in glamorous fashion spreads are leading very unglamorous lives.

A new documentary called Picture Me, which will open in Manhattan and Los Angeles on September 24, is the brainchild of Sara Ziff, a former big time fashion model who walked and booked campaigns for some of the biggest names in fashion. The film explores the exploitative nature of the modeling industry and exposes some of the truly ugly underside to an industry that thrives on dreams and imagination.

I guess I am plugging this movie because I keep reading about young women who aspire to be fashion models without truly understanding the nature of this business. Time that could perhaps be better spent exploring new hobbies or discover hidden talents was wasted on this dream that could perhaps never be realized. Or a dream that, once realized, turns into a nightmare. 

Some people may feel that becoming a model is a choice and that if things get bad enough these models can always just quit. Most people might even feel completely unsympathetic toward the flight of these often underaged girls. After all, models are portrayed as being young and gorgeous and living the high life. But I personally have a difficult time continuing to support an industry built on broken dreams and wasted lives, I believe something can be done. What, though?

Here are some light reading material related to this post.

Gawker's coverage of Picture Me

Jezebel's coverage of the teenager modeling scam

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  1. It's definitely not Top Model! I read the Jezebel article too and I can't believe that they CHARGE these girls, then openly mock them behind their backs... and besides, who gets the money? Tons of girls and $5000 apiece? Sounds shady to me.

  2. Any job that is focused on a person itself such as a model, actor/actress, professional dancers have to undergo SUCH verbal critique (and often times abuse) since their career is based on what they look like/act. It is so sad but I guess that comes with the territory? I have to agree with you that I never inspired to be a model but I do get jealous of their clothes and free spirited lives. I've never heard of the documentary but it does remind me that everything is not as glamorous as it seems.

  3. It's true, the industry isn't as great as they make it out to be, but then again, what industry is? There will always be pluses and minuses in any profession.

    Because these girls are young, they think that they don't have a voice and they can easily be exploited, but they need to learn how to decipher between a real agency and a fake one. They also need to understand their rights as a worker and be alert that not everyone is their friend. Plus, I always wonder about the parents' role in all this as well.

  4. Erin - I know! I was appalled. The money probably go to paying for the scouts to come and drink and party and socialize...which is disgusting. Some of theses scouts are downright mean. I do wonder why the kids' parents allow them to do this.

    Hanna - I agree. Modeling is definitely not a career...really just a seasonal job. But the darkest part of this for me is that SO MANY young girls aspire to be fashion models. I wonder if they are aware of how underpaid and exploited this profession really is. I think it's worth the effort to at least educate them about what they are getting themselves into. I think it's ultimately up to them to decide if it's worth it.

    SP - I couldn't agree with you more. No industry is perfect. But as I was saying before, the harrowing thing is that it's portrayed as an ultra-glitzy profession and it lures so many aspiring young persons to want this essentially dead-end job for themselves.

    I think the age of the models really is the biggest factor in how they are controlled. I am horrified that the parents aren't more involved in the process. But I think the modeling industry lacks the structure and protection outlined in other professions. I have been surprised by how often models silence themselves after a traumatic event. For many of them, they are working internationally without family and the local government really can't do very much to help them. And they are so easy to replace, there will always be a taller, slimmer, more unique girl come next show season. I don't know, I am rambling and not very articulate because I am having a hard time wrapping my head around how people let this happen before their eyes.

    People know that human trafficking is a crime but people never suspected that modeling agencies are disguised escorting services as well. I think from a lot of what I read recently that even big agencies are guilty of this.

  5. Most people view modeling as a glamorous career, so I suppose the industry does an excellent job hiding all the ugliness of the business. It certainly takes a tremendous amount of smarts to survive the business. I'd like to check out the documentary some time.

  6. hey elle-- i got your message...glad it wasn't just me. i was searching up and down that calendar and couldn't find anything FP!

    it's sad to see the this going on in the industry...glad i'm not a model. modeling seems like such a fun job. i think blogging is a great way to kind of live out that dream on your own terms! hahah.


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